President Donald Trump’s policy on nuclear weapons is following the same misguided ideas of his predecessor.
President Obama committed our country to an upgrade of our nuclear arsenal through a new generation of weapons and nuclear production facilities. The program carried a $1 trillion price tag. In addition, Trump has supported spending even more money on the nuclear arsenal. His draft of the 2018 budget included $1 billion more for nuclear weapons. In times like these, it’s important for our country to remember the words of wisdom voiced by Gen. Omar Bradley.
“We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount,” he said. “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about killing than we do about living.”
In his lack of attention to the nuclear weapons problem, Trump’s policy doesn’t take into account another threat to the civil right of peace — terrorists or non-state actors. According to the September 11th Commission, Al Qaeda hopes to develop nuclear weapons. Other terrorist groups, like Islamic State, could do the same thing.
During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Russia had a certain amount of security from nuclear attack because each side knew that if it launched an attack that the results would be disastrous. However, the equation is different with a terrorist suicide bomber because there are no worries about self-preservation. In addition, a nation-state struck in a terrorist nuclear attack has no return address. The International Atomic Agency has reported 1,300 smuggling incidents since 1993 and a supply of enriched uranium is scattered around the world.
Even when nation-states are involved, human error and nuclear weapons are a deadly mix. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry recalls a time in 1978, during his tenure as undersecretary of defense for Jimmy Carter, when a general woke him up at 3 a.m. with a warning that the Soviet Union had launched 200 missiles, a false alarm. A decade ago, an Air Force B-52 bomber accidentally took six nuclear weapons from North Dakota to Louisiana.
In 2007, Perry, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Schultz and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) issued a report on the need for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The report contained recommendations on how to better secure these weapons. It also advocated for the Senate reviewing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty — a multi-lateral treaty that bans any type of nuclear explosion in any environment. It was adopted by the United Nations general assembly in 1996 but not ratified because eight states, including North Korea, would not sign it.
The biggest item in the report is the reduction of the number of nuclear weapons in nuclear armed states, but it also contained recommendations for better security of existing weapons and quality security for the uranium enrichment process for nuclear energy. These large tasks must done multilaterally because no nation will give up its nuclear arsenal without every other nation doing the same and there has to be a mechanism for monitoring legal obligations. The United States should work through the United Nations on such a task but will also have to engage the International Atomic Energy Agency on the matter of enriched uranium. The countries in charge of security in the proposed U.N. effort should be other great economic powers — Russia, China, India, the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Relations between the Russia and the United States have been strained because of Russian interference in our 2016 election, their interference in European elections as well as their actions in Ukraine. President Trump, who has failed to place the current crises in North Korea with the need to abolish nuclear weapons, talked about better relations with Russia during the election. Russia has 7,000 nuclear weapons. The two states can agree on the need to be secure from the horror of nuclear weapons. A replay of the Nixon/Brezhnev détente or the Reagan/Gorbachev alliance could and should happen.
The great international relations theorist Hedley Bull thought that states could cooperate to establish and enforce international law if it was in their own self-interest. Even though Russia and China leave much to be desired, surely we can understand the time has come for the abolition of these barbaric weapons.